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Is this the right time for Valdez, Stevenson and Navarrete to move up in weight?

9:18 AM ET

Steve Kim

Nick Parkinson

Close•Reports on boxing for, as well as several national newspapers
•Has been reporting on British boxing for over 15 years
•Appears on BoxNation’s Boxing Matters show

Former featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez is set for his second fight as a full time junior lightweight, as he steps into the ring with Jayson Velez on Tuesday.

Valdez returns to action in a non-title bout against Velez inside “the bubble” at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas (ESPN, ESPN Deportes 8 p.m. ET). With a victory, Valdez can set up a WBC junior lightweight title shot against Miguel Berchelt.

Valdez is one of several top fighters thinking about emerging from boxing’s shutdown in a different division. Former featherweight titlist Shakur Stevenson and junior featherweight Emanuel Navarrete are also pondering where their futures lie. Is this the right time to make the move up? And what are the risks and potential rewards tied to each of these fighters looking to step up a division?

Nick Parkinson and Steve Kim are here to answer some key questions about what lies ahead in the future for each of these fighters.

With Oscar Valdez moving up to 130, how do you think he will fare against the titleholders at junior lightweight?play


Mark Kriegel tells the story of how Oscar Valdez has overcome adversity, including suffering a broken jaw vs. Scott Quigg.

Parkinson: Fellow Mexican rivals Leo Santa Cruz and Miguel Berchelt are the biggest fights Valdez could make, but also the biggest threats to his unbeaten record. Valdez has been linked to Berchelt (37-1, 33 KOs) , the WBC titlist, and that fight has all the ingredients of a must-watch event. I slightly favor Berchelt with his experience (he has ruled as junior lightweight king for the past three years) and knockout record at 130 pounds. Valdez was also knocked down on his 130-pound debut against Adam Lopez in November, before recovering to secure a TKO victory. Santa Cruz, a four-weight world titlist, would also be the pick over Valdez. It would be a different story if Valdez faced WBO titleholder Jamel Herring (21-2, 10 KOs) or IBF titlist Joseph Diaz Jr. (31-1, 15 KOs), both of whom have less experience than Valdez in title fights.

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Kim: People seem to be down on Valdez at the moment. The consensus is that he’s permanently damaged goods coming off that harrowing experience in a victory over Scott Quigg in 2018, in which he suffered a fractured jaw. He has been a tentative fighter since then, though, and it’s only natural that he has been a bit hesitant in the first few subsequent outings.

But I haven’t given up on Valdez. His aggression and offensive arsenal make him very competitive against Herring, Diaz and Santa Cruz. Even moving up in weight, he’s a superior puncher to those guys. The only belt holder I’d make a clear favorite over Valdez is Berchelt. The two are scheduled to face each other later this year. Many are writing off Valdez, but even though I think he’s an underdog, I’m not ready to so easily dismiss his chances. There is a lot of pride involved in this fight and Valdez understands just how important this bout is to his legacy.

Should Shakur Stevenson stay at featherweight until he can make the unification fight with Josh Warrington?play


Shakur Stevenson stays undefeated after catching Felix Caraballo with a vicious blow to the solar plexus in Round 6.

Parkinson: Yes. I would have liked Stevenson to stay at featherweight and try to unify the titles. Stevenson is only 23 years old with 14 professional fights, so there is no rush to move up, especially as he is yet to make a defense of his title. Unifying featherweight titles is a logical next move for him at this stage of his career, as Stevenson has yet to establish himself as the man to beat in the division. England’s Josh Warrington (30-0, 7 KOs), the IBF titleholder, has made three title defenses, including an impressive decision win over two-weight world champion Carl Frampton in 2018. Warrington, 29, wants a high-profile fight in the U.S., and Stevenson fits the bill.

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8 p.m. ET Tuesday on ESPN and ESPN Deportes: Oscar Valdez vs. Jayson Velez, 10 rounds, junior lightweights

Kim: No, because this matchup simply isn’t feasible. Unfortunately, the timing just didn’t work out for this fight, and once Warrington made the decision to leave promoter Frank Warren (a close ally of Top Rank) for rival promoter Eddie Hearn, that pretty much sealed the fate of this bout. The reality is that with Stevenson still growing physically, he wasn’t long for the 126-pound division. The chance for a unification on the road would have been a great opportunity for Stevenson to maximize on a very short window as a featherweight titlist, but it wasn’t to be. Stevenson has said he simply doesn’t want to make the featherweight limit any longer.

What are some good options for Shakur Stevenson if he does move up to 130?Shakur Stevenson, right, won his first fight at 130 pounds with a sixth-round TKO victory against Felix Caraballo in June. Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Parkinson: Stevenson is young enough to take risks against more experienced fighters like Santa Cruz and reigning lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko, but he would start those fights as a big underdog. Berchelt has the highest knockout ratio by quite some margin among the current junior lightweight champions, and he also seems an unwise risk for Stevenson right now. Berchelt-Stevenson would be a great clash of styles, potentially a really entertaining fight, but “JoJo” Diaz, 27, and Herring would be better options for Stevenson if he is weighing up risk versus reward.

Herring’s title fight with Jonathan Oquendo was recently postponed for a second time after he tested positive for COVID-19. Herring is not as experienced as the other junior lightweight titleholders and is also promoted by Top Rank, like Stevenson. The pair know each other well as Herring has worked with Stevenson’s trainers Brian McIntyre and Jacqui Spikes in the past.

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Kim: A fight against any of the belt holders at 130 would be anticipated matchups, and in the quartet of Berchelt, Herring, Diaz and Santa Cruz, you have four very distinctive styles for Stevenson to contend with. But a fight outside that quartet of titlists that excites me is a showdown against lightweight secondary titlist Gervonta “Tank” Davis, who has held a 130-pound title twice and could be facing Santa Cruz (reportedly as a junior lightweight). Now there’s a fight that would have some real heat to it. Two fiercely proud young talents who each believe that they are the future of the sport.

Do you think Emanuel Navarrete can carry his power, speed, consistency to 126? What are the two or three dream fights for him?play


Take a look at Emanuel Navarrete’s dominance of the super bantamweight division.

Parkinson: Yes. After establishing himself as the man to beat at 126 pounds, Navarrete will be a threat when he moves up to featherweight. He is tall for junior featherweight and won’t be lacking in size if he comes up against any of the current featherweight titleholders. As WBO junior featherweight champion, that organization’s current featherweight titlist — Shakur Stevenson — is a possible fight. It would be a huge opportunity for Navarrete to make a name for himself against one of the best at 126 pounds. A clash against either fellow Mexican fighters Eduardo Ramirez and Hector Garcia, who have yet to fight for a world title but are both among the top 10 with the governing bodies, would also be a good first step at featherweight.

Kim: This is the weight where we’re going to find out about Navarrete. He was very active as the WBO champion at 122, but let’s face it, much of his success was predicated on size and activity. It will be interesting to see how that is mitigated as he faces bigger, stronger fighters. The best pure action matchup that can be made for him is against WBA “regular” featherweight titlist Xu Can, who is a punching machine. Then there is Warrington, another fighter who sets a quick, active pace. Warrington doesn’t punch hard, but he puts on consistent pressure. Both of these bouts would be entertaining battles.

Navarrete had the ability to overwhelm his foes as a junior featherweight. But he’s far from perfect technically, and again, at least some of his success had to do with favorable matchmaking.

Does Ryan Garcia deserve the big money and a title shot? Is his popularity enough?play


Ryan Garcia shows off his impressive punching skills while wearing a blindfold and brings serious power for some practice punches.

Parkinson: Garcia has put himself into a great position inside and outside of the ring. He is currently one of the most marketable boxers in the sport thanks to his social media presence — 6.7 million followers on Instagram, 418,900 followers on Twitter — which he has gained through video uploads rather than his exploits in the ring. Don’t blame Garcia for being popular though — boxing needs fighters like the 21-year-old to attract a younger generation of fans, and he will soon get the chance to prove if his talent justifies the numbers he is generating. Garcia is on the brink of a world lightweight title fight, and if it is against Luke Campbell, England’s two-time world title challenger and 2012 Olympic gold medalist, we will find out if Garcia has what it takes to be a hit at the top level.

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Kim: His social media presence is significant — to a degree — but the question is: How many of them translate into paying customers? It’s one thing to follow a person on that platform, but how many are actually paying consumers at your events? His last fight, a first-round KO victory over Francisco Fonseca at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California was an indication that he is a legitimate draw. To have an attendance of over 10,000 on a Friday night in Anaheim is significant. But at the same time, that number isn’t even 1% of his followers on Instagram. So what does it really mean?

With that said, he is an attraction, and he could be among the brightest stars in the sport for the next decade. Keep this in mind, he’s still just 21. But when your past two wins are against Romero Duno and Fonseca, you really haven’t “earned” (for whatever the means in boxing nowadays) a title shot. But should Garcia face Campbell, and defeat him, then yes, he absolutely deserves a title shot — and the conversation changes in terms of his market value as a fighter. Being popular is vital in determining what you’re paid, but there is also an intrinsic value to having a real résumé.

Which fighter has taken the most advantage of fighting inside of the Top Rank “bubble”?play


Gabriel Muratalla, who is also a preschool teacher, unleashes a fury of punches on Fernando Robles, leading to a first-round TKO.

Parkinson: Australian bantamweight Jason Moloney (21-1, 18 KOs) impressed in a methodical seventh-round stoppage win over Leonardo Baez (18-3, 9 KOs). Moloney patiently dismantled Baez, unloading thudding body shots and cut his opponent over both eyes. It was a big opportunity for Moloney to shine, and he took it. What was impressive was that it came two days after his twin brother, Andrew, suffered his first professional loss to Joshua Franco in a WBA world junior bantamweight title fight. Franco was also impressive.

Kim: Certainly Clay Collard makes a strong argument with his two wins, but I’ll go with Gabriel Muratalla, the punching preschool teacher who has notched two victories at the MGM Grand Conference Center. First, Muratalla stopped Fernando Robles in one round on June 11, and then got in four quality rounds against the tough Sergio Lopez on July 7. Top Rank has liked what it has seen, and it looks as if Collard will be signing a deal.

The 26-year-old Muratalla has shown that he’s a bantamweight prospect that not only has a great story but can fight a bit, too.

Sports report


Shakur Stevenson vacating WBO title to move up to junior lightweight

6:18 PM ET

Steve KimESPN

Shakur Stevenson is vacating the WBO featherweight world title to move up to the junior lightweight division.

“We’re moving on up … We’re getting all the belts, and everyone at 130 (pounds) can get it,” Antonio Leonard, who co-promotes Stevenson, told ESPN on Thursday.

Stevenson, 23, won the vacant featherweight title with a unanimous decision victory over Joet Gonzalez in October. On June 9, Stevenson stopped Felix Caraballo in a non-title junior lightweight fight.

Stevenson (14-0, 8 KOs) was scheduled to unify titles with IBF belt-holder Josh Warrington this summer, but those plans were disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, and ultimately, the inability to make a deal that satisfied both parties.

“You know what? Warrington didn’t want the fight to happen,” Leonard said. “Because we gave him all the opportunity. He didn’t even start acting like he wanted to fight Shakur until he seen we might go up to 130. He didn’t want to fight Shakur.”

Even if the Warrington fight was still possible, Stevenson said he is ready to move up.

“I just didn’t want to keep making that weight,” Stevenson told ESPN. “I think I should be in the rankings to fight for a title (at junior lightweight) ASAP. I think I deserve it.”

At the junior lightweight division, the belts are held by Miguel Berchelt (WBC), Jamel Herring (WBO), Joseph Diaz Jr. (IBF) and Rene Alvarado (WBA).

“We’re putting all those guys on notice at 130,” said Leonard, adding that Stevenson could be ready to fight again in August. “They can bring the belt, vacate them, because Shakur’s going to whup everybody — it don’t matter who it is. We’re taking on all comers.”

Until fights against the title-holders can materialize, Stevenson said he has one opponent in mind.

“I want Leo Santa Cruz,” said Stevenson. “It seems all the belt-holders are occupied with opponents. But I really want Santa Cruz, though.

“They know I’m coming for them. They see I’m on the way.”

One candidate to fight for the belt Stevenson is vacating could be WBO junior featherweight world titlist Emanuel Navarrete (31-1, 27 KOs), who also has plans of moving up one division.

“Navarrete has publicly stated he is moving up to 126 (pounds). We haven’t received an official communication from his team relinquishing the title, but that’s highly likely,” Gustavo Oliviere, in-house counsel for the WBO told ESPN. “If (Navarrete) relinquishes the title, he’s going to be available to fight for the vacant title (at 126).”

Since defeating Isaac Dogboe in December 2018 to win the belt, Navarrete has been one of the busiest world champions in the sport, having fought six times, five of them in title defenses. On June 20 he faced Uriel Lopez in Mexico, scoring a sixth-round TKO.

Juan Carlos Torres of Zanfer Promotions, who co-promotes Navarrete, also said he believes it is likely the fighter will vacate his title.

“And this is the idea,” Torres said. “A fight for the vacant title against Jessie Magdaleno. So that’s a possibility for September, October. That’s not a bad idea, and that’s what’s probably going to happen.”

Sports report


Tyson Fury’s surprise move – He let the world know his plan for Deontay Wilder

LAS VEGAS — It is a ritual that plays out before virtually every fight of consequence: Each boxer is asked about his plan for the bout and declines to offer any specifics for fear of giving too much information to his opponent.

But Tyson Fury is not your typical prizefighter.

“The Gypsy King” not only told the world exactly what his plan was for his mega heavyweight championship rematch with Deontay Wilder, he was audacious enough to tell us over and over and over.

“I’ll meet you, Deontay, in the middle of the ring,” he said right to his rival’s face at one point. “I won’t be running. You won’t have to look anywhere for me. Just watch out for the right hand because you’re going to sleep in two rounds.”

Fury could not have been more specific with his plan, and he could not have been more right — well, except for the two-rounds part. Instead, it took Fury seven rounds to knock out Wilder to retain the lineal heavyweight title and take the WBC belt on Saturday night at a sold-out MGM Grand Garden Arena that had as electrifying an atmosphere as just about any of the nearly 100 fights I have covered there.

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“I was pretty pissed because I predicted Round 2,” Fury, wearing a suit, green tie and no shirt, joked at his postfight news conference.

That Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs) would divulge his plan — and then follow it to a T — is one of the things that made it so masterful. Not only do fighters not typically do that, but the style Fury said he would fight in was the opposite of the style we have come to know from the British champ.

Fury has always been a boxer who relied on quickness and technical ability. A brawler and banger Fury is not. That held until Saturday, when he absolutely dominated Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs), leaving him dazed and confused before Mark Breland, Wilder’s co-trainer, threw in the towel as his fighter was pinned in a corner and being pummeled.

Fury said it was no big deal to give away his plan of attack.

“We didn’t mind revealing the game plan. We had nothing to hide,” Fury said. “I said what I was going to do — run across the ring, put him on the back foot and unload big shots on him. I’ve always been a slick master boxer — jab, move, get out of the way of everything. When I made the decision to move from [my previous trainer] Ben Davison, who’d done a fantastic job, by the way, I did it for a reason. Everybody was like, ‘This is a bad move, a really bad move.’ But it worked out for the best.”

Fury hired trainer SugarHill Steward, an old friend whose offense-first philosophy was handed down to him by his uncle, the late, great Emanuel Steward, one of the greatest trainers in boxing history.

“I believe in SugarHill. I believed in the style he teaches and I knew we’d get it right on the night,” Fury said. “Everything I did in the ring we practiced in the gym — setting up off the jab and landing the detonation right hand. Deontay Wilder is a very tough guy. He took a lot of good rights, and I think they done the right thing [throwing in the towel] because it was only a matter of time until he would get severely hurt.”

Tyson Fury connects with a right cross to the jaw of Deontay Wilder. Al Bello/Getty Images

I asked Fury why he’d make such a radical style change when boxing against Wilder seemed to work well in the first fight. After all, most people thought he won that fight despite it being scored a draw.

“Everybody knows I’m a master slick boxer who can jab and move around the ring for 12 rounds. But that didn’t work last time,” Fury said. “I got a draw, and a draw is a failure to me because all I do is win, win, win. This time I wanted the knockout, and I think the only way I could guarantee that I was going to get a win was the knockout. So when me and SugarHill spoke, he told me that I would knock him out, and I believed in what he said.”

Throughout the fight, Fury forced Wilder backward. He took Wilder’s legs away, dropped him twice: in the third round — with a right hand that was supposed to be Wilder’s money punch, not Fury’s — and again in the fifth round with, of all things, a left to the body. I couldn’t recall ever before seeing Fury do any sort of damage with a body punch.

“It’s the best performance I’ve ever seen from a British fighter in my time in boxing,” said Frank Warren, who co-promotes Fury with Top Rank and has been promoting fights for nearly 40 years. “When you think where he’s come from the last two years to where he is today, what an achievement.”

Indeed, after Fury won three major belts and the lineal title from Wladimir Klitschko in a big upset in 2015, Fury struggled. He was hooked on alcohol and drugs and living with mental health illness that left him suicidal. The notion that he would not only return to boxing but reach the pinnacle was virtually inconceivable.

Fury was able to get himself together and returned after a 31-month layoff, won two tune-up fights against lesser opponents and then faced Wilder 14 months ago. In that memorable first fight, Fury looked very good putting his boxing skills to work against Wilder, whose punching power is devastating. He managed to drop Fury twice, but Fury rose each time, including from the now-iconic 12th-round knockdown.



Tyson Fury says he still wants to improve following his TKO victory over Deontay Wilder and even cracks a joke about Wilder’s pre-fight trash-talk.

“I always believed that if he couldn’t beat me [in the first fight], when I was only 50% the man I am today, that he never had a chance [in the rematch],” Fury said. “I can’t wait for the next fight, the rematch, hopefully, if he wants it.”

Wilder has 30 days to notify Fury’s team whether he plans to exercise his right to an immediate trilogy fight. He didn’t attend the news conference Saturday because he was getting stitches for a cut inside his left ear, which bled for much of the fight, and also because he had trouble producing a urine sample for his doping test. However, both co-manager Shelly Finkel and co-trainer Jay Deas attended and said they believed Wilder would indeed go for the third fight next.

“Deontay will take the time, but you will see these guys in the ring again,” Finkel said. “I have told him many times I don’t expect to die, but I’ve had insurance for 50 years. You have the rematch [option] for a reason, no matter what.”

Deas added, “Knowing him like I do, he will absolutely want the rematch. These guys have put on two tremendous fights already, so I certainly think the public will want it and I think we’ll want it, [Fury will] want it, so it seems a natural. I think it’s what you’ll see happen.”

Fury believes his rival will seek a third fight with him.

“I’m almost sure he’ll take a rematch because he’s a dynamite puncher and any time he can take somebody out,” Fury said. “I’m pretty sure we’ll run it back again. Whoever’s next will get the same treatment, that’s for sure.”

It didn’t sound like Fury planned to alter his style if that fight does come to pass.

“They said I can’t punch,” Fury said. “Deontay Wilder himself said I’ve got two pillow fists. … Not bad for an old, fat guy who can’t punch, eh? I did all right, didn’t I?”

Sports report